The Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins faced off in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night in what many feel may have been a preview of the Eastern Conference Final. The Penguins came in riding a five-game winning streak and sitting atop the Atlantic Division, while the Bruins skated in with a modest three-game winning streak and sitting in second place in the Northeast Division, one point behind the idle Montreal Canadiens.
The Penguins made the game live up to its billing, rallying from a two-goal deficit and scoring three third-period goals for a 3-2 victory at CONSOL Energy Center.
"That's the thing in this league, you can't take anything for granted no matter what kind of lead you have," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said.
The win extended the Penguins winning streak to a league-best six.
The Penguins scored a trio of goals on Bruins goaltender Anton Khudobin in the third period. The first came at 13:42 of the third, when the red-hot Chris Kunitz one-timed a Kris Letang pass from the point while positioned in the right faceoff circle. The goal propelled him to the team lead with 18 and gave him points in 17 of his last 20 games.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma could sense his team's optimism after the goal, "Our team felt like at that point we were going to get another goal."
That goal would come less than a minute later when the Penguins broke into the Bruins zone on an odd-man rush and Brandon Sutter backhanded a James Neal pass from in tight past Khudobin to tie the game at two.
"We gave them some hope and we had to come out in the third a lot stronger and we didn't," said Bruins head coach Claude Julien.
The Penguins completed their comeback by taking advantage of a Bruins turnover. Sutter picked off an errant Dennis Seidenberg pass and broke in two-on-one with Sidney Crosby. Rather than passing to the NHL's leader in points, Sutter chose to throw a wrist shot at Khudobin, which sailed into the back of the net with 2:03 left in regulation.
"For (Sutter) to step up with two big ones like that; that's huge for us," Crosby said.
The Bruins opened the scoring while on the power play just 4:45 into the contest when Zdeno Chara blasted a slap shot from the point over the shoulder of Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury and just under the cross bar. Patrice Bergeron provided the screen in front, obstructing Fleury's view.
The goal continued the Penguins' woes on the penalty kill. Going into Tuesday's action the Pittsburgh penalty kill ranked 22nd, killing opponents' power plays at a less-than-impressive 78.8 percent rate. Compare that with the Bruins' league-best 92.3 percent penalty-kill rate.
The Bruins scored again with 4:30 left in the first. Bergeron corralled the puck behind the net and passed it out diagonally from below the goal line to Tyler Seguin in the slot who was able to wrist the bouncing puck just underneath the cross bar as he was falling to the ice.
Fleury made 14 saves to earn the victory, while Khudobin was the hard-luck loser making 31 saves.
"For us to squeeze it out in the last few minutes is huge, and everyone wants to score goals, but I think we did a lot of things right," said Sutter.
NOTES: Entering play Tuesday, Pittsburgh was the only team in the NHL that boasted four double-digit scorers this season: Chris Kunitz (18 goals), James Neal (17), Sidney Crosby (12) and Pascal Dupuis (11). ... The Bruins have just one break of consecutive days remaining this season (March 28-29). ... Pittsburgh goaltender Tomas Vokoun is one shutout shy from becoming the 26th goaltender in NHL history to record 50. ... Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg played in his 200th game. ... Scratches for Pittsburgh were center Evgeni Malkin (upper body), defenseman Simon Despres, and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo. Scratched for Boston were center Chris Kelly (lower body), left wing Lane MacDermid and defenseman Aaron Johnson. ... The Penguins next play Thursday at Toronto. The Bruins will also be in action Thursday when they host the Florida Panthers.